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Life lessons from a Navy SEAL

Jesse Itzler wanted to get in shape, but when he invited Navy SEAL David Goggins to stay in his home and train him for 31 days, he ended up getting much more.

"The way he was wired changed me in so many different ways, said Itzler. "Having 20 plus years in the military, he was so efficient with his time and that is something I lacked. I got all these different pieces of wisdom and life lessons."

Those lessons (and workouts) were first documented in a diary and blog that Itzler kept during the month-long visit. They more recently became the book, " Living with a SEAL, " (Center Street, $26) , in which Itzler re-creates his experiences with Goggins, referred to only as "SEAL"  in the book.

Itzler had seen Goggins at a 24-hour relay race in San Diego. Itzler was running on a team of six ultra-marathoners. Goggins stood out. He was the only African-American in the race, he was running alone, he had a fold-up chair, water and crackers and he weighed about 275 pounds. During the race, Itzler obsessively kept tabs on Goggins and when it ended, he took his name from the results list, got a contact number and asked to meet him with a proposal.

"After sitting with him for a couple of minutes, I realized I wanted to learn more about what makes a guy like this tick. I was hoping some of what I saw on the race course could rub off on me," Itzler said.

The two men couldn't be more different. Itzler, 47, grew up on Long Island, with lots of siblings and a relatively carefree childhood. As an adult, he enough confidence to talk his way into a meeting with a music industry executive and land a recording contract.

Itzler's unorthodox approach led him on a career path from rapper/songwriter to entrepreneur. In June, Itzler, who currently lives in Atlanta full-time, became a part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks along with his wife, Spanx founder Sara Blakely.

Goggins grew up with a mom who worked two jobs while attending college. He was African-American in a predominantly white school. He suffered physical and mental abuse and for a period of time as an adult he was overweight. The military became a way for him to overcome low-self esteem and anger, said Itzler.

Goggins arrived at Itzler's home in New York in 2010 during one of the snowiest winters. Training began immediately with a six-mile run at a pace just over 9 minutes and 100 pull-ups.

"I thought he was nuts and he is nuts. And I think he thinks I’m nuts," said Itzler who has formed a lasting friendship with Goggins. In addition to working out together, Goggins accompanied Itzler to work and business travel -- including a memorable meeting with NBA star Kevin Garnett who developed an instant bond with Goggins.

At times, Itzler wondered what he had gotten himself into alternating between feelings that he should have checked Goggins out more and feeling super safe that he had a SEAL with him at all times. Itzler says he barely survived the training, but came out on top.

"Living with him for 31 days and watching him never complain, have no excuses and no deterrents -- you can read a book about motivation, you can hear someone speak and get really motivated, but it is easy to lose that motivation. When that drive is in your DNA, everything changes. And that is what I got from him," Itzler said.

Now he said he spends a lot of time challenging himself to do things he doesn't want to do. While everyone can't go to the extreme of hiring a Navy SEAL as a trainer, Itzler offers up a few lessons from a SEAL to help all of us get more motivated:

Our limitations are self-imposed. "We don’t aim high enough with our goals. We all have more in us and we are all capable of aiming higher," Itzler said. And by all means, write your goals down. You're more likely to succeed if your goals are documented.

Get out of your routine and mix it up. It is important to set a challenge you don’t think you can do, said Itzler.

Have a partner. "Have a buddy. It is easy to let yourself down, but hard to let down a buddy," he said. It is also good to let the world know what you are doing. A blog or online diary, forces you to follow through.

Tap into your reserve tank. "The first time we feel pain or discomfort our brain tells us to stop. But that is just a tap on a shoulder and we can all go farther than that," Itzler said.


Discipline is easy, he said. Being consistent is hard. While everyone, even Navy SEALS have bad days, you have to get back up. The whole experience made Itzler more efficient, patient, prepared and mentally tough, he said. And it gave him an idea.

This book is the first in a series of books about him living with interesting people, he said.

"It is so cool to live with inspiration. I want to live with a monk...and the Rolling Stones."

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.